Chickens: A Debate

[Editor’s Note: Imran Khan’s suggestion to alleviate rural poverty by giving chickens to women was greeted with much ridicule but is there the germ of an idea there that public policy wanks can shape into a viable scheme? On the contrary, is there a convincing enough critique that can show how and why the idea might be infeasible.

Myrah Nerine Butt took the first step in a blog published in Dawn on December 5, 2018 and I requested Faizaan Qayyum to comment on her article. Myrah and Faizaan were Teaching Assistants for a course (ECON 100: Principles of Economics) I taught at LUMS in 2013 and it is gratifying to see them both emerge as articulate public policy practitioners.  Myrah completed a MA in Poverty and Development from the University of Sussex and Faizaan a MA in Urban Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he is currently pursuing a PhD. After a few email exchanges we decided we would all benefit from making this debate public and provide others a forum for reasoned discourse.

Towards that end, Myrah’s article is reproduced below followed by the discussion to date. We invite others to join and enrich the debate in order to make a contribution to how the issue of poverty can be addressed in Pakistan.]

Why PM Khan’s chicken and eggs solution has been mocked for all the wrong reasons

By Myrah Nerine Butt

At a ceremony to mark the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s 100 days in office, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government would provide chickens to underprivileged women in order to lift them out of poverty.

While a number of political stakeholders have ridiculed his statement, there is a lot of research on how and why this intervention can work. The people who are mocking the initiative are actually far removed from the context and lived experiences of rural women.

To understand the magnitude of the problem of poverty — 7.7 million households are living below the cut-off score of poverty developed by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

The fate of a lot of lives rests upon the policies developed by the government and trivialising such programmes can be incredibly detrimental to positive change.

To place the chickens within the policy context of Pakistan, I will compare the chicken intervention to one of the most successful poverty alleviation programmes in recent times, the BISP — an unconditional cash transfer programme.

Any woman who falls below a multidimensional poverty line is eligible for a cash handout. This intervention has been seen as a useful tool in alleviating poverty in Pakistan. As per the Food Energy Intake poverty line, BISP reduced the poverty rate by seven percentage points.

I will start by comparing the cash handout with the chickens handout to poor rural women and why chickens might work better given the household dynamics in place.

Firstly, one is a cash transfer while the other can be termed as an asset transfer. Money is more fungible than chickens. While money can be controlled by the men of the household and spent on non-productive or non-household activities, it is likely that chickens would remain in the hands of the women.

Typically, the men tend to goats, cows and buffaloes; there is a masculine connotation attached to tending to superior forms of livestock.

Because chickens are culturally seen as inferior forms of livestock, women are likely to retain control of these assets.

This is likely to increase the role of women in household decision-making: they control the chickens so they may decide on how to divide the eggs in the house or where to spend the resulting income.

On the note of fungibility, a chicken would also limit spending decisions of the household by virtue of being less liquid. Money can be spent on various activities, both good and bad, like responding to health shocks or gambling.

A chicken is a tied investment or forced saving, nudging people away from certain kinds of spending.


As opposed to a cash handout, chickens are an investment. They require low capital and the turnover is high.

They can also potentially help households climb out of poverty. However, the return on investment argument can be slightly confusing.

The remarkable high returns on investment are linked to commercial poultry farming; there are economies of scale on large chicken farms.

Rural households cannot tap into these massive economies of scale.

So, while rural households might not be able to capture the economies of scale, the eggs would still initially support subsistence of households and provide a steady basic income once the brood of chickens multiplies.

The idea of handing out chickens instead of cash is largely appealing because there is some evidence of its effectiveness in South Asia.

In addition to supplementing household income and providing subsistence, research shows that increased capacity gained by women and children through village poultry projects have impacts well beyond the improved village poultry production: chickens have increased food security and improved nutrition.

A possible pitfall of the chicken intervention could be the crystallisation of the role of women in the households.

A conditional cash transfer programme in Mexico handed out the cash to women if certain conditions were met, one of which was that the children of the household must regularly go to nutrition monitoring clinics.

The idea was to spur a household-level behavioural change.

However, because the money was handed out to women, they were responsible for meeting the requirements enforced by the state and thus the women had to take the children to the clinics, rather than the men.

This crystallised their role as caregivers and increased their burden of work.

Similarly in this case, women might be limited to the role of raising chickens and could be actively discouraged from other activities, like seeking higher education or formal employment.

It may also contribute towards increasing hidden child labour. Unintended consequences are always a possibility that should be considered when designing an intervention.

Ensuring an intervention that works

The chicken intervention cannot be rolled out in a vacuum — there would be a need to set up supporting infrastructure as well. Ancillary facilities like veterinarian services and training support need to be setup.

Additionally, serious work needs to be done to provide the women access to markets and strengthening market linkages.

There also need to be steps to organise women to work collectively in order to gain from some of the economies of scale and connect to markets.

Poverty alleviation interventions should be incremental and build on lessons learnt from previous interventions. The poverty scorecard developed by the BISP is a huge step in terms of understanding the dimensions of poverty.

The BISP has been able to develop an extensive database of poor households. The scorecard collects information on the various characteristics of the household as well as its assets.

It enables the programme to identify eligible households through the application of a proxy means test, which determines the welfare status of the household on a scale of zero to 100.

This can be very useful for targeting poor households in this programme too.

Additionally, the BISP has been tested and retested, its impact measured at each step. An intervention of such nature would require similar level of rigour in its design and implementation.

Bill Gates and the chickens

The global world is obsessed with finding a magic bullet to eliminate poverty. There is a reason why big donor organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation love such interventions.

They demonstrate quick results and are easy to measure. The global push towards “value for money” pushes policymakers to consider such interventions.

I would add a note of caution here. Poverty is deprivation on multiple fronts, not just income.

Aspects of time use, productive resources, health, education, rights and availability of services are equally important. Income is used as a crude indicator for all these other aspects.

Because of the multidimensional nature of poverty, it cannot be alleviated with one-time interventions. The causes of poverty are structural and run deep within societies.

Rather than viewing poverty as material deprivation, we need to understand it as a product of inequality and prevalent power relations. We need to analyse the process of design and implementation critically while being realistic about the impact.

The chicken intervention can and should be one of a number of poverty alleviation interventions, not a comprehensive solution. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket at the end of the day.

My fear, therefore, is that the intervention is top-down instead of being bottom-up. While global research and evidence is important, we need to ask ourselves: would it work in our context?

I am curious to find out whether a needs assessment has been conducted. Have the beneficiary women been consulted? Do they want chickens or are we going to force an additional burden on them? What kind of chickens work best in the local context?

For any intervention, the local communities need to be consulted right from the design stage. The intervention should be context-specific and bottom-up rather than top-down.

My key suggestion is to ignore the politicians sitting in the centre. They don’t need chickens like the rural woman might, but ask her before investing money first.

There is a need to step away from mocking PTI’s move to push forth this intervention. The decision is based on international research rather than a complete blind jump.

Let’s try giving the chickens a chance.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 09:59h, 09 December Reply

    Faizaan: Both of you were my TAs in ECON 100. Now Myrah has mounted a valiant defence of IKs chickens leveraging all she has learnt at Sussex. What do you think of it? Can we begin a debate that could convince one side or the other? Our position on the matter should not depend on whether we like IK or not.

  • Faizaan Qayyum
    Posted at 10:03h, 09 December Reply

    Sir, I think chickens became politically contentious because of the shabby presentation by IK and the fact that our central political leadership doesn’t often think/talk about policy from a household perspective. There may not be much harm in trying as part of a larger micro-asset building initiative.

    My concerns are more about our metrics – urban is exceptionally poorly defined in/around many cities – and the administrative nature of a roll-out. Without contextualized, local political assessments and through greater centralized control this will be a political disaster that further depoliticizes the grassroots.

    It is interesting that you would think of both of us in building a debate. I think Myrah did a good job of explaining gendered nuances of this policy but I’m not fully convinced about their applicability in our (especially peri-urban/densely built but categorized as rural) contexts. I also feel I do not have an adequate enough reading of similar schemes to form a strong opinion.

    Let’s see what Myrah has to say…

  • Myrah Nerine Butt
    Posted at 10:06h, 09 December Reply

    Dear Sir,

    It is so nice to hear from you. Thank you so much for reading it. Thank you for making me reminisce about LUMS and that particular semester. I learnt more about economics in that one class than all the other economics courses combined.

    Faizaan was kind enough to connect me with Dawn. I shy away from writing on topics I am not fully confident about. But given the current debate around the topic, I just felt the article might add value and help in some kind of policy debate. No one was discussing rural lives or women in the debate and the conversation around it demonstrated that people are actually disconnected from rural lives and stuck in their own reality.

    @Faizaan I too believe that our central political leadership actually doesn’t think about policy from a household perspective. I think this initiative is based entirely on “global research” and the idea that if Western academia has validated it, it will definitely work in our context. I genuinely think that not much thought was given to it. My assumption, of course, is based on the fact that Imran Khan was very quick to tweet about Bill Gates, so I could be wrong here.

    I didn’t think of urban poor when writing the article. That is an interesting dimension. I think the cost of raising chickens might be higher for them; they might need to buy feed for example. There could be physical space constraints as well. However, they would have access to markets and might be able to expand their business and climb out of poverty faster.

    On the note of rural-urban dynamics, I think if we figure out a way to connect the markets, we can aid rural transformation. This may be your field of expertise though so I am just throwing assumptions. It is asking too much from chickens though.

    As for metrics, we can take a closer look at BISP? Let’s explore how that was rolled out? I am not very clear on how it was implemented exactly. Give me a few questions to explore and I can look them up.

    I would strongly agree that these type of interventions do depoliticize the poor. You reduce their needs to chickens and income, ignoring the structural causes. It is like treating the symptoms rather than the cause of poverty. The interventions to deal with those would involve fostering lobbying and collective action. I don’t think the current government would be very comfortable with that. However, at least this directly addresses their needs. Most of the interventions are said to reduce poverty on paper. In practice, they take the trickle-down approach.

    I would like to share my experience with the article. The editor changed its title. I found it interesting that people typically have a tendency to share an article based on the title than the actual content. I think this is linked to our appetite for quick and concise pieces of information. Also, I tried to track who shared it. It was mostly shared by PTI supporters with captions like “the facts speak for themselves,” which was again interesting. My intention was to say, “We don’t know, let’s test it” but I don’t think most of the people read the whole thing. The title did make the article popular though.

    Looking forward to your response.

  • Faizaan Qayyum
    Posted at 10:08h, 09 December Reply

    Here’s my contention (especially if we’re drawing a line b/w urban poor and rural poor): women of the “urban poor” may never operationalize such a scheme because of networks, physical space, and other requirements. Additionally, many of them work to make ends meet. Many women in the rural poor also already work on the fields.

    Many of these problems may be closer to class than to rural-urban divides. It takes some measure of wealth to force a woman to stop working and earning. The real oppressors may then be men who make just enough to afford the misogyny, not necessarily the poorest.

    Do you agree? If so, who are we even targeting?

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 10:18h, 09 December Reply

    Myrah, Faizaan: I suggest we simplify this discussion drastically in order to get to the core of the issue. Let us focus exclusively on rural poverty – exclude all urban, peri-urban and quasi-urban areas. Just consider villages – they are still around. I just revisited some last week that I had surveyed in 1989 – not much has changed except the population size.

    Now, argue how giving rural women five chicken each will play out. What would it take for such an initiative to deliver? And, what exactly can such an initiative deliver?

  • Kabeer Dawani
    Posted at 12:48h, 09 December Reply

    Good article, Myrah. A few points from my side:

    1) I am not sure the burden of livestock farming is distributed by superior/inferior animal types. Recent research in rural Sindh by colleagues finds that almost all livestock farming is done by women and children. It may be different elsewhere though.

    2) The biggest impact that this would have, I think, would be on nutrition rather than income. The protein available from the eggs, and then eventually, the chicken itself, would greatly improve nutritional attributes. Given that undernutrition, and in particular low protein intake, is a huge problem in Pakistan (50% stunting in Sindh, for example) this would be addressing an important aspect of multidimensional poverty.

    3) Regarding income poverty, this is unlikely to be scalable because, first, there is likely already a market for chickens/eggs. (At first I thought this may even have an adverse consequence for that market, but on second thought this decile of the income distribution is probably not even a part of that market.) Second, given consumption requirements, they will likely not have surplus supply. Third, if a third or even a quarter of a village receives chicken, it will be unlikely to reach scale/profit because prices would go down drastically as a result of increased supply.

    4) Finally, Myrah raises an important point in the ensuing discussion regarding structural causes of poverty. By framing this as a poverty alleviation program, addressing those causes (e.g. structural transformation of the economy etc.) gets obfuscated and sidelined.

  • Myrah Nerine Butt
    Posted at 07:24h, 10 December Reply

    Hi Kabeer,

    Thank you for your response.

    The comment on the division of labour was based on my research in Punjab. I actually haven’t conducted any research in Sindh so thank you for pointing it out. There could be differences in gendered roles across areas and I should not have generalised.

    For your observation on nutrition, yes the intervention is likely to support subsistence of the household, particularly the eggs. This coupled with the idea that women might control the decisions around the division of calories within the household can be important. The impact on children might be significant.

    On the third point, you might actually be more familiar with the aspects of the chicken market. Your argument is logical and it is possible that the impact might just be limited to supporting subsistence, which is important on its own. policymakers would need to be prudent about the impact.

    What’s your opinion of forming co-ops to allow women to work together and access bigger markets? This could allow them to tap into economies of scale. The state can focus on linking them to a bigger market. The problem I foresee with this is that there would be an opportunity cost linked to the time invested in these co-ops.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 13:26h, 10 December Reply

    Please see the following excerpt from Shahid Mehmood’s recent article in TFT:

    “The first point revolves around the prime minister’s announcement of tackling the challenge of poverty through poultry farming (the chicken and egg idea made famous by Bill Gates). Within a few hours, it became the butt of jokes, with almost everybody wondering who put the PM up to this? But aside from the snarky nature of jokes, the idea lacks on several counts when applied to our situation. Consider, for example, that expenditure on poverty alleviation is already Rs600 billion or more. How? Official assistance (federal plus provincial) in the form of BISP plus Zakat initiatives is around Rs150 billion per annum. I am not taking into account expenditures on other ‘welfare’ schemes like the health card. Add the unofficial assistance to this number in the form of alms that Pakistani nation dishes out per year (the conservative estimate is at least Rs450-500 billion). This, Rs600 billion or more, is a gargantuan amount by any standard, especially for a country whose federal government finds itself in a Rs2 trillion fiscal pit.

    “The notable point is that all these expenses have hardly caused a dent in poverty numbers. In fact, if the latest World Bank report is to be believed, poverty has increased in the rural areas, and has improved only marginally in the urban areas. So where does the rearing chicken idea of the PM fit into the poverty alleviation efforts? Does the government intend to use it as a compliment to already existing programs, or as a substitute? And if the program is to be run by babus (like Zakat and BISP), what is the guarantee that it won’t meet the same fate as the other programs that are littered with mismanagement and corruption?

    “The gist of the argument is that the PM’s program, at this moment, is completely unconvincing because we are unaware of the numbers, logic and rationale for instituting the program. Moreover, ask any expert with experience of poverty alleviation efforts, and he will tell you that it won’t help much. For example, Lant Pritchett is a noted authority on poverty and poverty alleviation efforts. He recently commented that programs like rearing chicken are at best ‘band aids’ for poverty. The only real cure for poverty is inclusive, sustained economic growth. Right across our northern border, the world has seen a miracle unfold in China as 700 million managed to escape the poverty trap. And there is unanimous agreement that it only became possible due to high rates of economic growth, whose fruits managed to reach the poorest. The lesson is straightforward: programs like chicken rearing or BISP are only temporary fixes, but they offer no long term respite from poverty.”

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 13:30h, 10 December Reply

    Myrah: Please read Shahid Mehmood’s recent article in TFT on BISP:

  • Shahid Mehmood
    Posted at 17:51h, 10 December Reply

    First of all, much appreciation and thanks to Anjum Altaf sahab for inviting me to this debate, and also putting up my articles that related to this debate. Whenever I hear from him, it brings back those wonderful memories from my lecture at LUMS on a particular topic in Econ History. At the same moment, the same memories also bring a tinge of sadness as Anjum sahab couldn’t stay at LUMS and my ambition of teaching Econ history remained just a dream.

    The participants of the debate seem to have an excellent grasp of the subject of poverty, of both the urban and the rural variety. I am not sure I can match their level of expertise. Anyway, the following lines depict my humble opinion about this issue.

    Myrah’s excellent article says it all, especially the part where she laments the fact that there are no technical details available. In somewhat different words, I argue along the similar lines in my article, excerpts of which Anjum sahab has already posted. The fact of the matter is that any serious policymaker would never just roll out or announce a program without numbers and intuition to back it up. We’ve seen that happen in Pakistan’s econ history time and again, with the results being just a waste of public money. And this one, at this moment and without any details, seems another one of these futile efforts. Whether its yellow cabs laptops or BISP, the political elite just want to imprint their political and personal mark on scene without giving a damn about whether the initiatives make any economic sense. This chicken, and dairy farming initiatives, for example, were initiated a few years ago by Shahbaz Sharif in the Punjab. I doubt whether Imran Khan was given any briefing, based on research, regarding the outcome of that initiative. We would all love to know to know what came of it? The results may even point to future prospect of IK’s initiative.

    Where I find myself in strong disagreement with Myrah is her appreciation of the BISP, primarily because she (like most others) is unaware of ground realities and technicalities. For example, Anjum sahab would remember our meeting at Chai Khaana (Islamabad) where a verbose DIFD technocrat kept praising BISP as a tremendous success till I asked him a few questions and all that verbosity and air of assurance was suddenly gone! It’s a long story, part of which I’ve already stated in my article. To make it simpler: You can’t trust the numbers and all those praiseworthy reports. Here’s why: nobody has any idea how much money BISP beneficiaries have received till now? Nobody knows, for example, that BISP beneficiaries were told from the very start that if you say anything negative about BISP, your cash assistance will go away (the district level BISP workers are mostly PPP workers). Same tactics were at work when PMT based survey was being carried out. Since scores are based on assets, it was simply a matter of alerting the chosen, politically affiliated families about not mentioning particular assets that could increase their scores and hence make them ineligible for receiving cash payments (Note: it’s not all families, but a certain percentage of families).

    Now, as I mentioned in my article, much good can come of the scheme if it can be implemented judiciously. The chances of that happening are remote, though, because the program is dominated and run by bureaucracy and politically chosen technocrats. For example, after publication of my article on BISP, I got a long apropos on Twitter by a certain lady working for the World Bank, mentioning all those praiseworthy reports and ‘international recognition’. By qualification, she turned out to be city planner and architecture specialist! Hope readers get the drift of what I am suggesting.

    Similarly, and as mentioned in a few comments in the forums, there are on-the-ground realities which have yet to be answered. My village is located in Malakand, and poverty is rampant in those areas. Yet it is hard to find chicken being reared domestically even in the houses of the poor. Most people buy the broiler chicken variety from the market, and that also in limited amounts (not because of income restrictions, but because they consider it unhealthy). Even in the relatively prosperous areas like Mardan, the chicken business is not considered a good investment due to dietary patterns, the flow and ebbs in demand and the considerable time and expenses (especially fixed and maintenance costs) associated with rearing chicken. I wonder whether these realities are known to those who put the PM to this idea.

    Back to the big issue of poverty. As somebody who likes to dabble a bit in economic history and available evidence, I can tell you that anti-poverty measures are thousands of years old. In one particular case in Mesopotamia, for example, the government had put a floor upon the sale price of poor peoples’ land to prevent their lands from being usurped by large landowners and businessmen at minimal prices. Greek city states and Roman Empire, similarly, had various measures to help poor people. And that has continued till this day.

    Do these tell us anything? They tell us that lest the fruits of growth reach the lowest ebbs of the social strata, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to meaningfully tackle poverty and inequality. The most remarkable proof of that, as I mentioned in my article, is the Chinese miracle unfolding in front of our eyes, where 700 million have been lifted out of poverty. Ask any expert worth his salt and he/she will tell you that it’s due to inclusive econ growth. Schemes like BISP and chicken rearing may be helpful, but won’t help families escape inter-generational poverty.

    What can Pakistan do to tackle poverty? Again, it’s a long debate and I don’t want to bore readers to death. But I do find it very strange, and remarkable at the same time, that nobody wants to mention the elephant in the room: Pakistan’s runaway population growth! And poor people still tend to have relatively larger families. To tackle poverty meaningfully, policymakers would need to tackle this issue aside from other, related issues (governance, primarily). Somehow, people around the globe tend to severely underestimate the role of China’s one-child policy in its success at tackling poverty. I am not suggesting such a harsh policy for Pakistan, but I do suggest measures at bringing down the family size.

    I also find it amusing that not many recognize that one of the best measures to tackle inequality and poverty in the form of building 5 million homes has already been set in motion, which can help (especially the poor and lower middle class) alleviate the debilitating pressure of rents and use it for more productive purposes. My own understanding is that if this scheme comes to fruition, we will see definite change in numbers (for good) in the long run.

    Thus my question: why this sudden affection for chicken rearing type ideas when there are other better ways.

  • Marwah Maqbool Malik
    Posted at 20:05h, 10 December Reply

    Myrah, this, as I shared previously as well, was a very interesting read. My primary contention with the conversations on this chicken episode has been the lack of informed debate. It is easy to shun or praise something on political grounds but actually much harder to evaluate the merits and demerits of an intervention which, if implemented, will take up a large chunk of resources. Importantly, it has consequences for poverty alleviation discourse in the country.. how we design poverty alleviation schemes/programmes reflects how we understand poverty and subsequently determines how programmes are rolled out and how impact of such schemes/programmes is measured.

    As you rightly pointed out, poverty manifests as multidimensional deprivations. I think this intervention addresses poverty to the extent of improving nutrition, food security and diversifying income streams. In a sense, it reduces vulnerabilities to some extent.

    However, we should be careful not to view this as an asset transfer capable of driving people completely out of income poverty. Any evidence of this scheme working (to generate additional income) involves significant scaling up where you are able to reach economies of scale. Scaling up is not something possible by just handing out 5 chickens per poor woman and banking on their natural rates of multiplication to reap profits. It requires access to better feed, vaccinations, awareness/information on healthy rearing and then access to markets. To reach a large enough scale for steady income generation, people would also need bigger spaces to keep chickens which may not be possible for poor people with mostly limited or no landholdings to spare.

    I was also thinking of a co-ops model for such a programme to work on a scale that it can deliver. However, co-ops entail higher costs of engagement for women..

  • Marwah Maqbool Malik
    Posted at 20:10h, 10 December Reply

    I think before we debate how such an initiative can deliver, we need to clarify what aspect (s) of poverty do we want/envision this initiative to tackle.

  • Myrah Nerine Butt
    Posted at 20:27h, 10 December Reply

    Thank you for sharing these.

    The article on BISP is one of the first pieces I’ve read on corruption in the scheme so it is very interesting. It is not surprising at all though. These are the typical problems associated with the state implementing the schemes and the resulting incentives. It would be good to quantify what fraction of the amount is wasted/ stolen/ doesn’t receive the beneficiaries.

    In an ideal world, there is no corruption but in a lot of state schemes globally we witness it. Maybe stronger checks on the disbursement can help? This article isn’t saying that the scheme was ineffective on the outset, just that there was corruption.

    As for the other article, the comment about the gargantuan amount of money being spent on poverty alleviation is actually true. What we lack is rigorous testing. In the past, we have scaled up interventions without fully testing them because the decisions are made on politics than outcomes. We need a more outcome-based and flexible approach.

    ‘Who will run the programme?’ This is a very critical question to ask. Will a parallel authority be set up? Do we need one? We will have another dead scheme if we don’t innovate and learn from past interventions!

    As for his last point about it not being an effective poverty alleviation mechanism, I believe he is arguing from a different ideological viewpoint. I have a very micro view of poverty. I try visualising a household and think how an intervention might directly impact it. Given the level of depoliticisation and ineqaulity Pakistan witnesses today, I am sceptical of the idea of inclusive growth.

    Theoretically, chickens fit into inclusive growth if there is an access to markets and linkages given to the people as an added boost. But like Kabir pointed out, the impact might be limited there too.

    The poor are essentially excluded from the growth process and including them may require some serious thought. Just off the top of my head, if a family is involved in low skill labour and has not had the advantages that other people in the community might have had, how does one include them in the process?

    In my opinion, the poor are merely used, not actually understood, in the growth debate. There are several reasons why they are not a part of the growth process right now and before growth, we need to focus on inclusive societies (which can’t be fixed through interventions like chickens or BISP).

    Would love to hear some other opinions on this.

  • Hussain Bux Mallah
    Posted at 07:48h, 11 December Reply
    and on “(which can’t be fixed through interventions like chickens or BISP).” Please see

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 16:27h, 11 December Reply

    I wish to push this discussion in a different direction.

    We all know our rulers are populists but non-serious about the real issues concerning citizens. We also know the problems of implementation given the scale of corruption in Pakistan – in fact, it would be difficult to think of any large-scale program that is not associated with a scam. When we reject a proposal for these reasons we are doing so (rightly) from a political economy perspective.

    Ignore the prescription of inclusive growth as an alternative – no one can be against it by definition but it is too broad for this discussion.

    I would like us to look at this kind of a specific proposal from a pure public policy standpoint. Suppose you are asked by the government of a country that cares about its people and where there is no corruption to determine the feasibility of such a chicken scheme to impact poverty. How would you go about the assignment? What design features might be required to make it work?

    When Shahid says that there are better ways to reduce poverty than rearing chicken, how does your consultant’s report establish that in concrete terms?

    To simplify, assume this scheme is designed exclusively for rural areas.

  • Myrah Nerine Butt
    Posted at 09:39h, 12 December Reply

    Just listing down some of the steps needed for designing the intervention:

    1. A needs assessment to understand what are the gaps at the field level. This would also help develop a contextual understanding of gender roles.

    2. Consultations with a sample of beneficiaries to figure out how the programme should be operationalised.

    3. A control/treatment group or an alternate form of testing the intervention.

    4. Asking the question, conditionalities or no conditionalities? Do we tie chickens to mandatory training requirements? Do we further nudge people to take certain decisions? I am personally against such a paternalistic approach but these are factors that policymakers need to think about.

    5. A sustainability approach. How would ownership be ensured? How would we ensure that the chickens are actually taken care of so that the family benefits? Again this needs a smart design approach. Maybe a co-payment for the chickens to ensure a buy-in? This would exclude well below the poverty line though

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:15h, 14 December

      Myrah: This is a good beginning. I have the following questions with reference to your steps:

      1. What are you expecting from the needs assessment? If the objective is to alleviate poverty, we know that it is widespread in Pakistan. If the objective is improved nutrition we know the overwhelming prevalence of malnutrition and stunting. Why do we need a needs assessment to confirm that some intervention is needed for either objective? What kinds of gaps at the field level do you expect to find?

      2. Do you believe poor rural women would know how a large-scale intervention ought to to be operationalized? What exactly are you expecting to learn from the beneficiaries?

      3. Outline how you would design a randomized control trial for such an intervention? (Faizzan should help here as he has been part of one at ICERP.)

      4. In your opinion which alternative would have a better probability of success: with or without conditionalities? Why? If the former, what kinds of conditionalities are possible?

      5. What measures do you feel would improve sustainability? Why?

    • Myrah Nerine Butt
      Posted at 13:46h, 17 December

      By needs assessment, I meant at the very least a consultation at the field level asking the women if they think this would work for them? I think asking them what they need to escape poverty is important. I personally believe that the beneficiaries would know what they need best in their own context.

      As for the RCT, I would look for two villages with similar “features” (distance from the road, types of crops growing) and households that are similar too (income levels, size of household). The treatment would be the chickens. You would give them to the women in one village and not the other. I would like to discuss the factors that we would want to control for further though.

      From an ideological point of view, I am against a paternalistic approach. However, the evidence suggests that conditionalities work better and are more effective in terms of results.

      I was thinking because chickens can be a one-time handout, the conditionality can’t be an action that needs to be performed repeatedly. I would need to think further on a one-time conditionality. Attending a training session can be one.

      One option is to tie it with school enrolment. The chickens can be taken away if the women don’t comply. However, the cost of enforcing this might be too high and the overall mechanism might not work in the field.

      For sustainability, I think a co-payment can work. You ask the women to invest in the chicken too. This would again exclude the ultra poor but would ensure that the women treat the chicken as a personal investment. State interventions can fail when there is no ownership of the asset on part of the beneficiaries. This is just a nudge to make the women think “My chicken, my responsibility.”

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 21:00h, 17 December

      Myrah: The following thoughts come to mind:

      I sense you are using the term “needs assessment” incorrectly. What you have in mind is more a focus group to elicit the potential recipients reactions to the scheme — this is a sensible thing to do. But then you don’t seem sufficiently focused on what you would ask. You say “asking them what they need to escape poverty is important.” Okay, suppose they say what is important is getting a cow instead of a chicken or a public sector job for their sons, what would you do with that information? You also say, “I personally believe that the beneficiaries would know what they need best in their own context.” Are you assuming complete knowledge and perfect information?

      In case of the RCT (as proposed), could you spell out the hypothesis that you wish to prove or disprove? What exactly would you know at the conclusion of the study?

      As an academic, why do you wish to start with an a priori ideological standpoint? If the evidence shows that conditionalities work better and the results are more effective, should you not be convinced as a scientist and policy analyst? Do you privilege ideology over evidence?

      Why do you think the chickens need to be a one-time handout? The chickens can be given one at a time with each succeeding one dependent on meeting some target.

      Re the tie to school enrollment. Do you believe the household return from five chickens a month would exceed the economic contribution of an out-of-school child?

      On copayments, how much would yield the sense of responsibility? Suppose it is 50 percent — With that amount, the women could have already bought half the number of chicken if they thought it was a good idea. Are the women doing that? Perhaps you could find that out in the focus group — Dawani and Ayesha suggest only 11 percent are interested in chicken. Also, with co-payments, aren’t you moving closer to a standard micro-finance scheme? If so, why not let the women decide what they wish to do with the funds based on their comparative advantage instead of being stuck with chicken? How do we know chicken are the highest yielding use of the resources?

    • Myrah Nerine Butt
      Posted at 10:48h, 24 December

      If the people say they’d prefer a cow over chickens, I would ideally rethink the intervention. Maybe chickens don’t work in the local context. The potential beneficiaries would ideally give reasons as to why they think cows might be better and we can work from there.

      On the beneficiaries and their knowledge, while they may not have complete knowledge or perfect information, they would at least know more about their context than any urban policymaker. Based on that, I would think their voice is more important. There is the problem of resource allocation and what intervention is realistically possible. This is where the technical knowledge of the policymaker is useful.

      My hypothesis would be “Are chickens effective for lifting people out of poverty?” The experiment would help us with the decision of scaling up.

      My postgraduate thesis focused on the unintended consequences of paternalism. Ideology matters because if the people aren’t consulted and are rather ’instructed’, the objective will be met but there might be unintended consequences. Also, if an intervention in any way further crystallizes power relations, I personally believe there is a problem. If a policy is designed with the thinking that ‘poor people are inherently stupid and cannot make the right decisions for themselves,’ we need to force them to make these decisions, I am just uncomfortable with this. So while their financial status might be improved, the process matters to me as well. Also, evidence will show you what you’re looking for. It will not necessarily show what else is going on. Tying this is with designing the hypothesis, how I define poverty is important. If I define it as earning $2 a day then I might see positive results. But if other factors are taken into account like, for example, time use, I might see different results.

      Currently, the package is a set of 5 chickens but yes I think the handout can be split over time. My concern is that would that be inefficient for the household. It is possible that the time spent on five chickens is the same as two. I am not sure about this.

      On the point of tying to school enrolment, no I don’t think the return can be equated to the economic contribution of out of school children. I had forgotten that part of the conditional cash transfer. Maybe the conditionality can be tied directly to the chickens then like attending trainings and accessing veterinary services. The idea of conditionalities is to encourage certain kinds of behavior that is beneficial in the long run like vaccinating children or ensuring attendance. These also need to be contextualized. Which behavior needs to be encouraged in communities?

      On copayments, I think 5-10% should be enough to. It is to nudge ownership, not necessarily cover the cost of chickens. We don’t know that chickens are the highest yielding use of the resources, we only know that they have had a positive impact on some communities.

      I haven’t come across a lot of evidence on microfinance being effective in Pakistan. Will read up on it and comment.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 21:20h, 26 December

      Myrah: Let us take this one issue at a time.

      I feel you should rethink your criterion for rethinking the intervention – “If the people say they’d prefer a cow over chickens, I would ideally rethink the intervention.”

      If people thought you were offering them a choice between a cow and five chickens, wouldn’t they always ask for a cow? Mainstream economic theory asserts that more is preferred to less and given that the value of a cow is many multiples that of five chickens, why wouldn’t people say “they’d prefer a cow over chickens”? Isn’t that sufficient reason to prefer a cow over chickens? In fact, even if they felt chickens won’t work in the local context, they might well prefer the five chickens over nothing as it represents a one-time exchange value of a few thousand Rupees.

      What you have to assess as an analyst is whether the proposed scheme is feasible in the location you are examining. Simplify your life by assuming you just have to give a Yes or No answer; you are not required to propose an alternative, more feasible scheme.

      In this scenario, how would you proceed?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:40h, 05 January

      Myrah: I hope you have not given up on the exercise and will be continuing the discussion through which all the participants will learn.

      Regarding the second point about the RCT. Let’s assume you take the two groups (with and without chickens) and put in all the right controls. The question still remains: What are you testing? If you are testing income effects, what is the time horizon in which they will manifest? The question is even more acute if you are testing for health improvements. How long do you intend to keep the RCT going to achieve credible conclusions?

      Further, the program as announced has inputs beyond the donation of chickens. For example, training, vaccinations, etc. Is it possible that as long as there is external involvement the program would do well but when it is reduced there would be a reversion to the mean. How long would the RCT have to be to avoid a false positive and give credible evidence of sustainability?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 20:13h, 09 January

      Myrah: Regarding conditionalities, I still do not understand why you are bringing in ideology into consideration at all. As an analyst, you are required to give the best advice and if the evidence suggests conditionalities work better, you should recommend them. But more importantly, shouldn’t ideology be overruled by evidence? What is ideology but a set of ideas anchored in unchallenged prejudice. If the evidence refutes some of the ideas, should one not revise the ideology? What is that makes ideology sacrosanct? And, if it is why bother to get an education that only results in discomfort?

  • Shahid Mehmood
    Posted at 20:21h, 13 December Reply

    Anjum sahab has put us in a rather tight spot by asking about implementation of such a program. Anyway, from what I have learned over the course of my work, a few quick, brief suggestions are as follows (I am sticking by the suggestion that the scheme is exclusively for rural areas)-

    For me, the most critical ingredient in this case is geographical proximity to a large market. Note that I have stated ‘large market’ rather than just ‘market’. My justification for suggesting so rests on various grounds. Perhaps the foremost is that, given that the success of chicken rearing/farming is highly dependent upon achieving economies of scale, that can only happen when a producer has a large market to tap into. A large market offers ample opportunities, and the producer is not limited to being dependent upon a sole seller/buyer. Given that large markets tend to be dense areas of economic agglomerations and activities, chances of a new entrants’ success are thus higher compared to a medium sized or small market. Put another way, more sellers would be competing for their services. And of course, geographic proximity could save costs that are incurred in long distance travelling (variable costs).

    Another advantage that a large market and geographic proximity confer is the development of personal channels between the producers and demanders/sellers in relatively less time, without intervention of middlemen (private or public). Private middlemen can take a sizeable chunk of the profits and public officials….. well, less said the better. Suffice to say, Pakistan’s experience suggests that public officials acting as middlemen can only spell trouble and inefficiency in the long run. Readers can take recourse to my BISP article to get an idea of this.

    Second critical component is the need to have credible, upto date data. When it comes to rural Pakistan, the data is unsatisfactory for such a huge undertaking. Again taking recourse to my BISP article, I mentioned how the national kitty suffered a loss of more than Rs. 50 billion since provision of monetary assistance was based on unreliable data. Therefore, before embarking on such a venture, it’s a must to have quality data. For example, data regarding the size of landholdings would be of importance since it would give an indication of ideal place to establish a farm (and how many in a particular locality).

    Third critical component would be the financing. Provision of public finances tend to be very uncertain given the nature of obligations and expenditures, and it’s not unusual for a program to suffer delays due to non-provision of promised assistance. We can see this phenomenon in action in recent months as the PSDP suffered heavy cuts. It’s never a good idea to start something this big without some sort of guarantee over the continuation of finances. You just don’t want to leave the poor guy halfway in between, when he or she have put in time and effort preparing for their business.

    Last, public level help should centre on knowledge spillovers, besides finances. By this, I am primarily suggesting sharing of knowledge in chicken rearing techniques with the recipients so that they can learn and add value to their business.

    The above are what I can state at the moment, and what I believe to be critical components for success of such a program.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 18:39h, 18 December

      Shahid: You have the basic ingredient right. If this is to be a serious income generation initiative (e.g., reducing poverty by increasing incomes not by social safety handouts like BISP) and not a nutrition supplement program, it has to be based on geographical proximity to a large market.

      A number of implications follow:

      First, the constraint of geographical proximity would mean that such an initiative could not be rolled out across all rural localities. Let us live with that and let someone propose an alternative scheme for localities not proximate to large markets. Note that the most severe rural poverty is in Balochistan which also has a dearth of large markets.

      Second, if this venture is to succeed by being competitive and leveraging economies of scale to serve large markets (as you mention), wouldn’t it have to be undertaken by a corporation? How would rural women with five chickens each compete in this space?

      Third, note that desi chicken and eggs are niche products that cost more much like organic foods. Therefore, the chicken and egg market is segmented with that for desi products being a subset. It seems to me that the metropolitan market for this niche product is already served even at this time because if you want desi chicken and eggs in Lahore, say, you can always find them. In order to lower the price to increase market size the production would need to be at the industry level not at the cottage level.

      This is getting close to the kind of large corporations with consolidated rural farms in the US that produce range-free chicken and eggs. By virtue of this logic, it doesn’t seem that the five chicken per household scheme would work unless accompanied by some institutional arrangement that yields the benefits of corporate-scale production. Am I missing something here?

      I agree with your comment about public sector middle-men — they would be a disaster. But I want to push you on private sector middlemen in general, quite independent of the chicken venture. It seems to me that it is an unverified ‘truth’ accepted by all that middlemen keep the bulk of the profits. Doesn’t this contradict economic theory and common sense? There are very few barriers to entry into this functional space and competition should quickly erode the margins. Can you improvise a small study of middlemen margins in any particular industry or service? Note that, on the contrary, public middlemen (like BISP officials) are protected by barriers to entry which is why they can extract rents.

      On data, could you be more specific about the data you would need for the chicken venture? Why would size of landholdings matter? Whatever the size of holdings, a parcel of land would need to be bought and people have been accumulating small parcels for a long time. In fact, it is easier to buy out smaller holdings than larger ones. Also, note how much land has been acquired by the DHAs — what is a chicken farm by comparison? Also, the pattern of landholdings would not be critical to determine the number of farms; that would be a function of the size of the market.

      I agree that this venture would be risky if dependent on public financing. So we are back to a private initiative. The question is, if a large enough market for the desi product exists (as it does in the US, for example), why isn’t the private investment already there as, for example, for pasteurized milk? And how would giving each woman five chickens tip the balance to attract a private corporate player to initiate production on a scale that would be competitive with, say, K&N or Big Bird?

      Finally, how will sharing chicken-rearing techniques with the beneficiaries overcome the barriers to scale that seem crucial to make this venture feasible as an income-generating scheme? What role are you seeing for the rural women in the production process for kind of project you have envisaged as likely to succeed? Wouldn’t this function be taken over by trained vets?

    • Shahid Mehmood
      Posted at 20:21h, 31 December

      As I had remarked in my earlier comments, Anjum sahib has put us in a rather tight corner by asking some very probing questions  Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that there are not many details available about the program, and it’s still in its infancy. Moreover, the raison de etre of the scheme is not known, except that the PM took his cue from Bill Gates. In between my last post on this subject and now, I took a trip to my village (situated in Malakand) and to another one to attend a wedding (Shaidoo, near Akora Khattak). There, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue briefly with the denizens of those areas. I’ll share what I learned at the end of the post.

      First, I’ll try to address the points that were raised by Dr. Anjum Altaf in response to my post. The first point relates to the question of geographical proximity, implying that many localities that are not near to large markets would be left out. True, I say, and agreed 100 percent. In these kinds of areas, then, the program can only serve as a nutrition supplement rather than any serious effort at income generation. One thing, though, that the government can do is to align the initiative with its other projects that would lead directly or indirectly to creation of a substantial market and hence greater demand. For example, there is substantial investment going on in Gwadar. On top of the CPEC related investments, the government is now buying up thousands of acres of land there for armed forces, especially army. Such a large scale investment/expenditure is bound to generate demand in that area. Perhaps this initiative of chicken farming can be aligned with investments in Gwadar, ensuring that the future demand is met and there is sustained income generation.

      The second point was about role of corporations in leveraging economies of scale. This point is related to the yet another point that was raised, regarding why the private sector hasn’t invested if there is demand for desi chicken? Yes, if the scheme is to be successful as an income generation scheme, and economies of scale have to be achieved, then the role of corporations would be crucial. But I doubt that they will give it a serious thought. There are certain reasons for it, and these reasons may explain why the private sector hasn’t latched on to this opportunity as yet. Purely desi chickens take much longer to mature, while the broiler chicken variety is ready within weeks. That means longer time frames for recouping returns on investment. Second, the market is dominated by the broiler chicken variety, and hence higher demand (especially during the wedding seasons) means more opportunities to earn. Third, it’s much easier and time-saving to cook a broiler chicken compared to a desi one, and that is especially handy during the festive occasions where freshly cooked chicken has to be served. These are, I believe, the main reasons for private sector refraining from venturing big time into the desi chicken market.

      I would disagree with the assertion that desi chicken and egg can easily be found in market. Actually what goes around as desi chicken is in reality a special variety known as ‘golden’ chicken, a kind of a cross between broiler and desi (but it’s not fully desi). Purely desi chicken is nowadays extremely difficult to find, even in rural areas. Those who rear it keep it for household nutritional needs and don’t give it away easily. I suspect that what the officials are distributing is also the golden variety rather than purely desi chicken.

      The question about why data is important in this case, and its need? From my experience of government led programs, especially BISP, I am of the view that reliable data is a necessity if we are to ensure that only the most deserving make use of this offer. Moreover, as an academic, it’s necessary to have reliable data for later studies, especially the ones related to effects of these kinds of programs on livelihoods. Similarly, the point about larger land parcels was given in lieu of the fact that this program were to be successful, then it’ll have to be taken on a larger scale and along professional farming lines that can attract the private sector. I don’t think private sector, especially corporations, would be too keen on negotiating separately with every household that gets chicken from the government. The transaction costs of such an act are too high and make any investment proposal unfeasible. In addition, the recipients will have to pool their resources to carry out this kind of chicken farming as a unit rather than individually, if this has to be a serious initiative for income generation. Otherwise, it’s just a nutrition enhancing effort at best. Please note that such cumulative effort towards large scale farming would also help the probable researcher, who could concentrate on one or two units rather than gathering data about every household.

      Regarding the role of private sector middlemen, from what I have observed, it’s not competitive a field. The established players tend to keep their hold given their reputation and the connections they forge over time, which are not easily broken by new entrants. Moreover, in rural/semi-urban localities, such connections carry a social meaning, and breaking them could bring a bad reputation upon the producer. But to be honest, my experience is limited to observing their behavior only in a few areas rather than a province or the country as a whole. Therefore, I cannot say for sure what the field looks like at a countrywide level.

      Hopefully the above answer the questions posed in response to my earlier post. Now I’d like to share my experience of interactions in the two places that I went recently. My brief interactions told me that basically a) there is a lot of misinformation and confusion surrounding the program and its purpose; b) people are smart enough to realize that at best, it can only serve to meet a family’s dietary needs rather than being a serious income enhancement program. A lot of them asked me whether I knew much about the program? But perhaps more importantly, they knew their calculations. A desi egg, even in winter at its heights, hardly sells for Rs. 12. As winter subsides, its price can come down to as low as Rs. 6. So, with 5 hens we get 5 eggs daily, and let’s assume an average price of Rs. 10 for simplicity’s sake. Assuming that the family forgoes its own requirement and sells all the eggs, it would fetch Rs. 50 per day, meaning it’s fetch a maximum of Rs. 1500 per month.

      But notice that this does not include the cost of feeding them and the time spent looking after them, of which the curious ones were keenly aware of. It is in this regard that they asked me whether the package comes with financial help too? Otherwise, as stated before, majority of them agreed that it is at best a nutrition supplement program that can help families meet their requirements rather than act as market oriented supply incentive. The most important point, though, seemed to be their awareness of their opportunity cost. Most of them, even the very poor ones, can garner a daily wage (dihari) of Rs. 300 at least. So there seems little incentive for them to concentrate on a business proposal that garners them Rs. 50 per day at best, even if it acts as a complement to their present earnings.

      And of course, there are variations in chicken prices that put question marks over this whole scheme, aimed at income generation. For example, it’s been very cold in Islamabad and upper parts of Pakistan for the last week or so (the temp in Islamabad drops to -1 at nights these days). Yet, even in this cold weather, chicken price dropped to Rs. 135-140 today, in Islamabad (it’s much less in rural and semi-urban areas). I mean to say that such variations in prices make this whole chicken rearing business not very profitable.

      All in all, given all that we have discussed, I am convinced that this program has been the by-product of whims rather than any serious consideration. Given on-ground realities, I doubt whether this will ever become a serious income generation effort.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:16h, 05 January


      Good analysis is useful at the infancy of a project and when many details are not known. The value added is much less when the program is mature — in that case it is not a feasibility but an evaluation. What we are after is what can we say with the given level of information and clarity.

      Regarding location, what about the point that if this is a collective initiative at scale then distance to market would cease to be a binding constraint? And, can we say for certain that it has to be a collective initiative at scale if it is intended as an income generating scheme? If so, this would be our first major conclusion. Following that we can discuss the nature of the collective effort at scale for which there are a number of alternatives.

      I agree that the government would need to integrate this with other projects to create demand. Can you be more specific in your example of Gwadar? Can you suggest an actual mechanism that would achieve what you are rightly suggesting. This could be the second major conclusion.

      Regarding desi chicken and the lack of private corporate investment, your argument rests on the ground that consumers prefer broiler chicken for various reasons. This seems to contradict the fact that almost everyone eating broiler chicken laments the fact that it is nowhere as tasty as desi chicken. This suggest a potential market which may be repressed either because of poor availability or a high price. Production at scale can overcome both to some extent although desi will always sell at a premium to broiler for reasons you mention. Once again, if the government can partially guarantee a demand, a collective response might be forthcoming. This reinforces the second major conclusion.

      You make an interesting and very useful observation about the golden chicken. The point remains that there is a niche preference for desi chicken. Whether it is satisfied by the pure product or a hybrid is a separate issue. It is also the case that those who look for an alternative to the broiler variety can find it in the market — it may very well be the golden hybrid rather than the hundred percent desi.

      Regarding data, you need to distinguish between data needed for the feasibility of this program and data that might be required later by academics for its evaluation. Can you specify the data needs for the former? Data for means-testing can be piggybacked on existing means based programs like BISP and Zakaat. In any case, in my opinion this program should be tested as a pilot in one or two locations rather than rolled out at the provincial or national levels. This can be the third major conclusions. If so, can we specify the data needs for the feasibility of a pilot test?

      Regarding middlemen, there are a lot of narratives many of which contradict economic reasoning. If there are indeed barriers to entry they must be identified concretely. Without empirical studies we cannot support or contradict these narratives.

      About your excellent field observations, the common sense cost-benefit conclusions are no surprise (as opposed to the ridiculous statement in the Washington Post article). People usually have a good assessment of household economics. This should reinforce our first major conclusion that a collective initiative at scale is necessary if the the program is intended to be income generating.

  • Hussain Bux Mallah
    Posted at 06:08h, 14 December Reply

    Myrah Nerine Butt “Do we tie chickens to mandatory training requirements?” Your questions are valid! See the blog

    Yes! To rear chicken flocks is not a simple game it need skill trainings. So Yes “1. A needs assessment to understand what are the gaps at the field level. This would also help develop a contextual understanding of gender roles”.

  • Myrah Nerine Butt
    Posted at 16:45h, 17 December Reply

    A response by Kabeer and Ayesha in Dawn:

    Poverty alleviation v/s protection from shocks is an important debate!

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 17:29h, 19 December Reply
    • Shahid Mehmood
      Posted at 19:54h, 19 December

      One word is especially noticeable in the article: economies of scale, something that I mentioned in my earlier post. One more noticeable aspect is that a lot of it seems concentrated on urban areas, where the interviewed aspirants of the program are not necessarily poor. For them, it’s more about nostalgia and having ‘desi’ eggs, meaning better quality eggs, rather than alleviating poverty. The aspect about monopolistic practices in the poultry industry, though, is quite interesting. Would there be so many aspirants taking up this project so as to drastically improve supply and end monopolistic practices? Not sure, but let’s wait and see. Other than that, meaningful analysis of the program in rural areas is missing, and neither is there discussion of finer points that Anjum sahab raised in his response to Myrah and your’s truly. And of course, there is the typical ‘Pakistan is rural and agrarian’ fallacy that is again repeated here.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 10:14h, 20 December

      Shahid: Note that the point about economies of scale has a bearing on your observation about markets also. As long as the program is at the cottage level (households being the unit of production) with middlemen to transport the product to retail outlets, proximity to a large enough market would be critical. However, if economies of scale are critical to success requiring a corporate initiative, distance would be annihilated — note that K&N has production in Mansehra and supplies not just the entire country but the Middle East as well. The question would then be how the households fit into the production process where quality control and standardization might be essential.

      I thought the article was superficial. As you said, it interviewed people in urban areas who were motivated more by reasons irrelevant to the objective of the scheme. Second, it was not clear on whether the objective was nutrition (plausible) or income generation (less plausible).

      I don’t know where it derived the figure of an income of Rs. 10,000 per month from the eggs of five hens. Even if each hen lays an egg a day for the entire month, that is a total of 150 eggs per month. So, one egg would fetch over Rs. 60? You can go to Al-Fatah in Lahore and get the top-of-the-line Omega-3 Range-free eggs for Rs. 180 per dozen? And even this price would drop if there is a positive supply shock. Could you check with some people who keep hens how much they earn per month. This was a pretty Miftah Ismail kind of article. Did you see what he wrote this week on resilience?

      I remain more interested in the questions I posed to you and Myrah. I hope both will give them some thought.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 13:47h, 11 January Reply

    Some details about the poultry initiative (which seems to have been launched first in big cities) are available here:

    I hope the rooster being distributed can compete with Mobutu Sese Seko. The worry is it might end up like him:

    The following is research from PARC:

    The page has an email contact for PARC. I would appreciate if one of you follows up and ask if there is a working paper for the PTI initiative.

    The following is from YouTube on the Golden chicken:

  • Shahid Mehmood
    Posted at 19:32h, 18 January Reply I found this article quiet interesting, and relevant to our discussion. Two most interesting things in the article: a)The DG says that the program has no commercial aspect (which then invites the obvious question: why does the PM think that it will bring people out of poverty? Was he misinformed?), and b) a female in the village stating the problem of desi chicken dying frequently. All in all, confusion abounds as far as Govt’s logic behind this program is concerned.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:17h, 24 January

      Shahid: KP always wants to do better than Punjab:

      Can you obtain this PC-1?

    • Shahid Mehmood
      Posted at 05:51h, 28 January

      Interesting that you put up the question because I was in Peshawar the other day, meeting P&D KP officials regarding a project that I am working on. When I put forward my query about the chicken and egg project and its PC-I, they were clueless. Believe me, they didn’t even know that it has started in KP! Later on, the additional secretary informed me that the KP CM met the PM at Bani Gala, and came back to order the starting of this program. No PC-I, no debate, no nothing. So, there you have it. A program launched without any intuition without any idea of its probable costs and benefits.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 16:08h, 25 January Reply

    Something light for a change. What might happen with the urban distribution:

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